The English subjunctive is a special, relatively rare verb form that expresses something desired or imagined.
We use the subjunctive mainly when talking about events that are not certain to happen. For example, we use the subjunctive when talking about events that somebody:
- wants to happen
- anticipates will happen
- imagines happening
Form of base subjunctive
The form of the base subjunctive is extremely simple. For all verbs and all persons, the form is the base of the verb, for example: be, have, do, go, sing, work
The base subjunctive does not use any other forms (
goes, sings, works).
This table shows the base subjunctive in all persons, using the verbs be, work and sing as examples:
|he, she, it||be||work||sing|
Use of base subjunctive
In certain that clauses
The base subjunctive is typically used in that clauses after two structures:
1. suggest-verb (or noun) + that
- advise, ask, command, demand, desire, insist, order, prefer, propose, recommend, request, suggest
- command, demand, order, proposal, recommendation, request, suggestion
2. advisable/anxious-adjective + that
- advisable, best, crucial, desirable, essential, imperative, important, necessary, unthinkable, urgent, vital
- adamant, anxious, determined, eager, keen
Look at these sentences which include examples of the above:
|He||suggests||that||you||be||present at the meeting.|
|The board||recommend||that||he||join||the company.|
|He||requested||that||the car park||not||be||locked at night.|
|They made a||suggestion||that||we||be||early.|
|He made a||proposal||that||the company||buy||more land.|
|The president has issued an||order||that||the secretary||resign||next month.|
|It is||advisable||that||she||rest||for a week.|
|It was||essential||that||the army||advance||rapidly.|
|After the landing, it will be||vital||that||every soldier||not||use||a radio.|
- the position of not when creating negation
- that the main clause can be in any tense
Look at some more examples, which include that clauses in negative and continuous form:
- The judges order that he stay the execution.
- We have made a request that we not be disturbed.
- It is important that a car be waiting when we arrive.
- The manager was eager that his visitor see the new building.
- The board of directors recommended that he not be dismissed.
- Have you seen my suggestion that work hours be reduced?
- It was essential that we should vote the following day.
- He requested that the car park should not be locked at night.
be after if
We sometimes use subjunctive be after if/whether, though this is rather formal, especially in British English:
|If that||be||(not)||the case,||I intend to report the matter.|
|Whether he||be||prepared or not,|
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved. William Shakespeare
Note the following fixed expressions with the subjunctive:
- Bless you!
- God bless America!
- God save the Queen.
- Long live the President!
- Heaven forbid!
- Heaven help us!
Form of were-subjunctive
|he, she, it||were|
Use of were-subjunctive
In the following examples, you can see that we sometimes use the were-subjunctive (instead of was) after:
- as if
Note that in these cases were is always correct, but was is possible in informal language:
|Formal with were||Informal with was|
|I would go if I were younger.||I would go if I was younger.|
|If he were not so mean, he would buy one.||If he wasn't so mean, he would buy one.|
|I'd tell her if I were you.||We do not normally say "if I was you" even in colloquial language.|
|It's not as if I were ugly.||It's not as if I was ugly.|
|She acts as if she were the Queen.||She acts as if she was the Queen.|
|I wish I weren't so slow!||I wish I wasn't so slow!|
|I wish the computer were working.||I wish the computer was working.|
|Suppose she were here. What would you say?||Suppose she was here. What would you say?|
If I Were a Rich Man Fiddler on the Roof
If I were a boy Beyoncé
If I were a carpenter
And you were a lady,
Would you marry me anyway?
Would you have my baby? Tim Hardin
- I hope that this computer works.
- I hope that this computer is working.